Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas


Oscar and Bosie, as his friends called Lord Alfred Douglas, met in Chelsea when Bosie was 22 and Wilde 15 years his elder. Oscar immediately became enamored with Bosie who was thrilled that such a literary genius was interested in him.  Bosie referred to Wilde as "the most chivalrous friend in the world" and was willing to forsake his birthright for the friendship. They exchanged letters, with some of Wilde's containing what could be interpreted as expressions of passionate love.

"It is a marvel that those red-roseleaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing," Wilde wrote to Lord Alfred in 1893. "Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry."

Bosie knew of Wilde's affection for him early on and succeeded in using it to his advantage. He relied on Wilde's money when his own ran out and would pout and threaten self-injury when Wilde complained of his behavior or criticized his literary skills. For the length of their relationship, Lord Alfred used Oscar's love for him as a means to get what he wanted. In the end, Wilde sacrificed himself to protect Lord Alfred, who remained a loyal, yet manipulative, friend.

For Wilde, who was much more low-key about his sexuality, it was a love-hate relationship, almost akin to the moth and flame. He lusted for Lord Alfred, but knew that Bosie would only hurt him. His head told him the cost of Bosie's love was too expensive, his heart considered it a bargain.

"Wilde wanted a consuming passion," Ellman wrote. "He got it and was consumed by it."

When Wilde was put on trial for his homosexuality, Edward Carson questioned Wilde about two poems written by Lord Douglas that appeared in the issue of The Chameleon that contained Wilde's "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young."  The two poems were "Two Loves" and "In Praise of Shame."

Two Loves
Lord Alfred Douglas

I dreamed I stood upon a little hill,
And at my feet there lay a ground, that seemed
Like a waste garden, flowering at its will
With buds and blossoms. There were pools that dreamed
Black and unruffled; there were white lilies
A few, and crocuses, and violets
Purple or pale, snake-like fritillaries
Scarce seen for the rank grass, and through green nets
Blue eyes of shy peryenche winked in the sun.
And there were curious flowers, before unknown,
Flowers that were stained with moonlight, or with shades
Of Nature's willful moods; and here a one
That had drunk in the transitory tone
Of one brief moment in a sunset; blades
Of grass that in an hundred springs had been
Slowly but exquisitely nurtured by the stars,
And watered with the scented dew long cupped
In lilies, that for rays of sun had seen
Only God's glory, for never a sunrise mars
The luminous air of Heaven. Beyond, abrupt,
A grey stone wall. o'ergrown with velvet moss
Uprose; and gazing I stood long, all mazed
To see a place so strange, so sweet, so fair.
And as I stood and marvelled, lo! across
The garden came a youth; one hand he raised
To shield him from the sun, his wind-tossed hair
Was twined with flowers, and in his hand he bore
A purple bunch of bursting grapes, his eyes
Were clear as crystal, naked all was he,
White as the snow on pathless mountains frore,
Red were his lips as red wine-spilith that dyes
A marble floor, his brow chalcedony.
And he came near me, with his lips uncurled
And kind, and caught my hand and kissed my mouth,
And gave me grapes to eat, and said, 'Sweet friend,
Come I will show thee shadows of the world
And images of life. See from the South
Comes the pale pageant that hath never an end.'
And lo! within the garden of my dream
I saw two walking on a shining plain
Of golden light. The one did joyous seem
And fair and blooming, and a sweet refrain
Came from his lips; he sang of pretty maids
And joyous love of comely girl and boy,
His eyes were bright, and 'mid the dancing blades
Of golden grass his feet did trip for joy;
And in his hand he held an ivory lute
With strings of gold that were as maidens' hair,
And sang with voice as tuneful as a flute,
And round his neck three chains of roses were.
But he that was his comrade walked aside;
He was full sad and sweet, and his large eyes
Were strange with wondrous brightness, staring wide
With gazing; and he sighed with many sighs
That moved me, and his cheeks were wan and white
Like pallid lilies, and his lips were red
Like poppies, and his hands he clenched tight,
And yet again unclenched, and his head
Was wreathed with moon-flowers pale as lips of death.
A purple robe he wore, o'erwrought in gold
With the device of a great snake, whose breath
Was fiery flame: which when I did behold
I fell a-weeping, and I cried, 'Sweet youth,
Tell me why, sad and sighing, thou dost rove
These pleasent realms? I pray thee speak me sooth
What is thy name?' He said, 'My name is Love.'
Then straight the first did turn himself to me
And cried, 'He lieth, for his name is Shame,
But I am Love, and I was wont to be
Alone in this fair garden, till he came
Unasked by night; I am true Love, I fill
The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.'
Then sighing, said the other, 'Have thy will,
I am the love that dare not speak its name.'

In Praise of Shame
Lord Alfred Douglas

Last night unto my bed bethought there came
Our lady of strange dreams, and from an urn
She poured live fire, so that mine eyes did burn
At the sight of it.  Anon the floating fame
Took many shapes, and one cried: "I am shame
That walks with Love, I am most wise to turn
Cold lips and limbs to fire; therefore discern
And see my loveliness, and praise my name."

And afterwords, in radiant garments dressed
With sound of flutes and laughing of glad lips,
A pomp of all the passions passed along
All the night through; till the white phantom ships
Of dawn sailed in. Whereat I said this song,
"Of all sweet passions Shame is the loveliest."

At the trial, Wilde was asked if he saw any improper suggestions in the two poems.  Wilde's response to Carson's question as to what was "the love that dare not speak its name" provided one of the most memorable moments of a memorable trial.

What is “the love that dares not speak its name?”

Wilde: “The love that dares not speak its name” in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as “The love that dares not speak its name,” and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.

Since Saturday is St. Patrick's day, I wanted to post poetry by Ireland's most famous literary homosexual.  The poems above are by Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde's lover, but I also wanted to add a poem by Wilde himself, and this is one of my favorites.

The True Knowledge
Oscar Wilde

Thou knowest all; I seek in vain
What lands to till or sow with seed -
The land is black with briar and weed,
Nor cares for falling tears or rain.

Thou knowest all; I sit and wait
With blinded eyes and hands that fail,
Till the last lifting of the veil
And the first opening of the gate.

Thou knowest all; I cannot see.
I trust I shall not live in vain,
I know that we shall meet again
In some divine eternity.

5 comments:

silvereagle said...

All the poems are certainly full of imagery...and very descriptive as well. I was not aware ofth source of "the love that dares not speak its name" - the definitation given by Wilde is certainly not the defination of today...but makes good sense.

Thanks for the interesting posting...

Mike said...

Exactly what Silvereagle said, except for "definitation" (a forgivable typo). I had no idea that Douglas was such a powerful poet. Wilde's response to the question posed to him is brilliant in the sense that he refused to either to take the bait of pretending that Douglas' poem had nothing to do with love between men, or to fall into the trap of conceding a sexual aspect to the love personified by "Shame."

RobFather-X said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RobFather-X said...

I first learned of Oscar Wilde many years ago in high school. Then some twenty years later in 1997, the good biological film "Wilde", starring English actors Stephen Fry and Jude Law, covered much of the history you discuss here. Thanks for posting more of the details about Oscar Wilde here!

Anonymous said...

I find there story so facinatin, there my favorite historical couple. Wilde is such a beautiful poet, he has amazing literary talent. Thank you for posting :)